London 2012: Beach babes bring it
09:39 30 July 2012
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Great Britain’s Zara Dampney and Shauna Mullin fed off the energy of a passionate Horse Guards Parade crowd to get their Olympic beach volleyball campaign off to a winning start last night.
The home pairing overcame Canadian rivals Marie-Andree Lessard and Annie Martin in a deciding set - 17-21, 21-14, 15-13 - after a contest which had the watching spectators enthralled.
And victory gave the duo a big lift going into their next match against Italians Greta Cicolari and Marta Menegatti.
Dampney said: “We knew what we needed to do and we just had to remain calm, keep the communication there and take each point as it comes.
“I lived every point and all the ups and downs. We were a little bit nervous at the start and needed to keep building after the first set.
“We just needed to remain calm and then we won the second set and took it into the third set.
“It was the most unbelievable experience and we can’t wait to do it again.
“Obviously with everyone behind us we’re playing for 15,000 people! A crowd like that definitely makes a difference, gets you that one more block, one more dig, definitely makes you serve tougher.”
Mullin added: “We had to make it a dramatic one!
“It was really enjoyable to win our first match. The Canadians really put up a good fight and made us work really hard for it.
“It’s amazing for beach volleyball, which isn’t a big sport in the UK, to be right in the centre of London in one of the best locations in the Olympics.
“For us personally it’s amazing to see the London skyline and know we’re in the heart of London.”
The 15,000-capacity venue was certainly an impressive sight, as one turned off The Mall.
London had been hit by a heavy shower mid-afternoon, but that could not dampen the enthusiasm of those in attendance, with long queues forming at the beer tents.
The announcer kept everyone’s spirits up inbetween points and during the technical timeouts, when ‘The Rakers’ would come on to rake around the edges of the court to keep the sightlines prominent - to a backing of the Benny Hill theme tune.
The Horse Guards Parade Dance Crew would also hit the sand at breaks in play, clad in swimsuits, to entertain the crowd and the choice of music throughout the day was fairly apt - if not particularly politically correct.
‘I see you baby (shakin that ass)’ by Groove Armada got air time, along with ‘Sexy and I know it’ by LMFAO, which includes the provocative lyric ‘Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle’.
But to play ‘Fat bottom girls’ by Queen was a bit too tongue-in-cheek by the DJ.
I had hoped to see Hornchurch’s Lucy Boulton competing in this event this summer, but the former Abbs Cross pupil and partner Denise Johns just missed out on a wild card at the final hurdle in the Contintental Cup last month.
Dampney and Mullin took GB’s host nation spot as the higher-ranked pairing and they ran out to a rapturous reception, despite the evening gloom.
After conceding the first few points of their match, they prompted wild cheers when finally getting on the scoreboard themselves with two fine hits from Mullin.
The digital scoreboard flashed up supportive phrases such as ‘Boom!’ and ‘Powerful spike!’ after winning shots, as well as ‘Monster block’ following good work at the net.
‘Sandstorm’ greeted another outstanding piece of skill on the court, while a catchy Mexican-style tune prompted ‘Oles’ from the crowd throughout, despite being huddled under umbrellas for most of the session.
Beach volleyball has certainly arrived in London with a bang - and it would be great to see it come back on a regular basis in future, maybe even as part of the World Tour?